Ask a woman about that panic-inducing moment when she’s at work, in class, or at the gym, and suddenly realizes she just got her period — and she doesn’t have a tampon or sanitary napkin with her. Every woman knows what that moment feels like. The frantic search through one’s purse, asking a friend or female colleague, and, finally, the big sigh of relief when you get your hands on one.
Now, imagine you’re homeless and you just got your period.
For most adult women, from the moment they enter their teens until they hit menopause in their 50s they must deal with the inconvenience of a period every 28 days or so. A woman’s menstrual cycle can be painful, ranging from mildly annoying and cumbersome to physically debilitating, and it can be expensive, as sanitary pads and tampons aren’t free. Add to that Midol and other pain medications that many women take to alleviate cramp pains and you’re talking about, not only a physically uncomfortable time of the month, but also a pricey one.
Limited access to sanitary products affects health
Even under the best of circumstances, most women will tell you that particularly the first couple of days of their period, all they want to do is curl up on the couch, under a cozy throw and a hot water bottle and be left alone.
Now just imagine you’re a homeless woman with no place to really rest your head, few possessions, if any, no certainty about where your next meal will come from, or how and when you will access a shower, a bathroom, and the hygiene products you desperately need this time of month.
With limited or no access to sanitary products, homeless women are often forced to go without or improvise with unsanitary and inefficient solutions such as toilet paper, pieces of clothing and towelling. When it comes to feminine hygiene, limited access to sanitary products also affects health. Improvising with unsanitary products or using them in too long can lead to vaginal infections.
The Toronto Star wrote a particularly revealing piece on how a woman’s menstrual cycle contributes additional hardship to an already precarious life, and how “striking a balance between dignity and demand” is something that program co-ordinators and front-line workers work hard to address.
At least 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night. At least 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a year. A total of 27.3 percent are women based on the State of Homelessness in Canada, 2016 study.
Here at home, the Conseil des Montréalaises just unveiled a brand new study, L’itinerance des femmes à Montréal, discussing the issue of homelessness and how it affects women in particular. The study also references a 2015 headcount, commissioned by the City of Montreal and carried out by the YMCA and the Douglas Hospital, where 3,016 homeless people were found to be living in the city. That number is a guesstimate, at best, since many homeless people do not make themselves accessible to be counted or are part of the invisible homeless, going from couch to couch or similar arrangements. The number is widely thought to be much higher. From that Montreal total, 24 percent were found to be women. The majority were young (most were under 30), Aboriginal, or immigrants.
NGO helps homeless women and girls in Montreal
With these numbers in mind, Montreal-based NGO, Fondation Sénégal Santé Mobile is donating menstrual pads and tampons to 100 homeless women and girls in Montreal. A one-year supply of these products (1,200 packages) has been sourced from the company NatraCare and will be distributed to three local shelters, Dans la Rue, a shelter for young people between the ages of 12 and 25, and Chez Doris, and Anne’s House, two well-established women’s shelters.
Fondation Sénégal Santé Mobile has been manufacturing (in Senegal) and distributing reusable cotton sanitary pads to women and girls in Senegal since 2014. With this donation, they want to be part of a similar initiative to provide disposable pads to homeless women and girls in Montreal.
Natracare’s products may be of interest to all women, since they provide a nice alternative to highly processed commercial tampons and sanitary napkins. Natracare pads and tampons are chemical free and made from only pure and natural materials that are made from plant cellulose and organic cotton. They are not chlorine bleached, are free of rayon, plastics and other similar synthetic materials that have a negative impact on our environment, and are perfume free, biodegradable and compostable.
Many girls in Senegal miss one week a month of school while on their period since menstrual pads may be unavailable or unaffordable, and makeshift home remedies are not very absorbent or waterproof. The Foundations’ project, LifePads Africa aims to change that and give freedom of movement and empowerment to women and girls during their menstrual period by manufacturing and distributing reusable washable menstrual pads for girls and women in Senegal.
Fondation Sénégal Santé Mobile has been quietly doing great work for women for a while now. Since 2010 the Foundation has been working to improve maternal and child health in Senegal, establishing a network of partners and the Plan Maternité project, which provides prenatal and postnatal care in Senegalese villages, sending ten batches of medicines to Senegal’s Health Posts (a value of $100,000) and equipping four birthing centres. The work of the Foundation is done entirely by a team of 10-15 volunteers and is funded by private donations.
This year, Shara Rosen, the President of Fondation Sénégal Santé Mobile wanted to also reach out and help women in need closer to home, by helping those who are most vulnerable — the homeless.
If you’d like to help them continue their invaluable work, you can donate to GOFUNDME or by cheque to la Fondation Sénégal Santé Mobile, 4100 Benny #111, Montréal, QC H4B 2R8. Income tax receipts are available for donations of $20 and more.
There will be a brief media presser and donation ceremony at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, March 14, at Centre AFRIKA (1644 rue St-Hubert) with myself and other invited guests.